Before you go to a left-wing meeting, brace yourself for the likelihood that everyone you meet in the hall will be standing on their head. Do not be surprised to see communists supporting fascism, feminists throwing their arms around misogynists and liberals volunteering to be advocates for tyranny. It's been like this since 9/11 turned the world upside down, and the temptation for a journalist is to play the cynical reporter and pretend to be unshockable. I try my best to be a hard man, but the shocks keep on coming. Take the fates of two venerable left-wing institutions, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Searchlight.
For 18 months I've had CND workers telling me how they have been forced out by the same people who disgraced the anti-war movement--the Socialist Workers Party, Ken Livingstone's homeboys from Socialist Action, the Jeremy Corbyn wing of the Labour Party ... the friends of the indefatigable George Galloway, in short. I couldn't see how to write about it. How could I prove that they were victims of a political purge rather than guilty of poor performance? In any case, there was always an element of a Quaker-communist alliance about the old CND, and the ideas it produced weren't always wrong. CND's policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament was political poison for Labour because it was so clearly in the interests of the Soviet Union, but CND had a second argument that was truer than its legions of critics in the 1980s admitted. Nuclear power breeds nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons breed more nuclear weapons, CND's argument ran. Unless proliferation stops, they will get into the hands of men who are prepared to use them.
That was then. Anyone who now believes CND is as much against proliferation as for unilateral disarmament would have been surprised by this autumn's annual conference. Among the guests was the startling figure of Dr Seyed Mohammad Hossein Adeli, the then Iranian ambassador. Iran is building the nuclear power stations CND once protested against--an odd project for a country with one of the largest reserves of oil in the world. Not only the US government but the United Nations and the European Union suspect the Islamic Republic wants the bomb. The obvious course for those sincere about nuclear disarmament is to oppose Tehran as vigorously as they oppose a replacement for Trident. But there's the rub. Standing by its principles would, if only for a moment, have put CND on the same side as George W Bush and Tony Blair, and that would never do.
Betrayal has defined the liberal left since Iraq because anti-Americans find their comrades in the Kurdish socialist movement or the Iraqi Communist Party or Arab liberal parties an embarrassment and cannot stick by them or even acknowledge their existence. Given that record, I guess it was inevitable that CND, whose governing council is stuffed with people who call themselves "socialists", "workers" and "communists", would take the next step and betray the Iranian left.
The Islamists murdered tens of thousands of leftists, perhaps up to 100,000, after the 1979 revolution, which socialists had supported--somewhat unwisely as events turned out. Trade unionists, atheists and women's rights activists can expect floggings and jail sentences. Members of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran exiled in London gazed with astonishment on CND's dalliance with a "fascistic" state. The invitation to the ambassador was an "outrage", the party said. CND was insulting "the people of Iran who are struggling to get rid of this brutal regime", and the countless thousands who have died in the attempt.
Iranians went to the conference to protest. CND stewards threw them out when they heckled the ambassador, just as Labour party conference stewards threw out CND's Walter Wolfgang when he heckled Jack Straw the previous month. …